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Canoe exhibit at the University of Wisconsin includes authentic handmade vessel

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Danielle Benden is the senior academic curator for the University of Wisconsin Anthropology Department I Madison.

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Professor Benden has an important story to share about an important discovery made by the School of Human Ecology at the university.

The story is about a “Handmade Indian Vessel” discovered by UW-Madison climate researchers in the late 1950s. The “Vessel” will be on exhibit until April 6, 2014.

However, this is only party of the story, especially since the boat is only part of an exhibit about canoes at the School of Human Ecology. Yet, according to Benden, “It’s really kind of striking” and it seemed to her that “There’s this highly important cultural backstory.”

She remarked, “It’s been like a puzzle putting tis all together. One thing led me to another to another to another.”

Perhaps the “backstory” has to do with the fact that “Eskimos built the canoe as lightweight as possible so they could more easily chase and kill fast-swimming caribou in the waters of the Northwest Territories. Now on display at a UW-Madison art gallery, the willow-ribbed vessel spotlights their genius for design with only the land to supply materials. It also tells a story of extinction.”

Reid Bryson and William Irving, both climate researchers, made regular to the Northeast Territories where the Ihalmiut Eskimo (People from Beyond) once lived and hunted caribou.

“By the time they arrived at the place where the Ihalmiut once camped, Bryson and Irving found no more people, just the canoe, a dogsled and some children’s toys made from animal bones. Some people believed they’d been relocated”

Others, including journalist Farley Mowat, belief “The small group had abandoned their camp, left their few possessions and starved to death walking in search of help”

Either way wrote Reid Bryson in 1982, “The Caribou Eskimo are gone. Starved into oblivion in our era…The world is poorer for their passing.”

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